We parked out car on Broadway and withing minutes were hugging our friend. In had been years since we had talked in person to Antonio. It was so nice seeing his smiling face and listening to him laugh.
A few weeks ago I wrote an article about the upcoming performance of former Tacoma Poet Laureate Antonio Edwards, Jr. The three performance event Speak No Evil was Friday evening with three more performances at Tacoma’s Glass Museum the next day(October 28, 2017). The introduction of my article referred to the serialization of Homer’s The Iliad in the Seattle Times. I praised the efforts of the Times, but hated their sacrifice: Gone are musical words and phrasing . . . the rhythms, the changing tempos, the alliteration, the patterns and portmanteauxing, or linguistic blend of words into a single phrase like “fleetinthewindAchiles”. All that the Times removed was present in Antonio’s performance last night. The power of the spoken word pulled us into his presentation. The magic mixture of Antonio’s salsa description, the beat, and his steps as he danced across the stage not only entertained but took us away to Puerto Rico. Our unheated room took on warmth and a soft glow.
The presentation used slides, video, and background music as a backdrop for Antonio’s comments, expressions and gestures. I think I detected a riff/lyric from “Can’t Rely on You” written by English recording artist Paloma Faith and American singer and producer Pharrell Williams.
Two slides showed New York City 600 schools. “As late as the 1970’s, violent and disruptive students were removed from New York City’s regular public schools and placed in so-called “600 schools,” where teachers were paid an extra $600 a year for hazardous duty. The schools became dumping grounds for troubled children and were wisely phased out.” – www.nytimes.com/1992/09/04/opinion/guard-against-dumping-ground-schools.html. One of the slides was Antonio’s elementary school. When he first saw the description of his school he became incensed and wanted to ask his mother why she would have enrolled him there.
One story from the presentation I had seen five or six years ago and really enjoyed. It was about his second grade teacher, whom he fell in love with. On her first day of school she wrote her name on the blackboard, “Miss Watson.” When Antonio wanted to write on the blackboard as well, she drew in a box where he could write whatever he wanted to for his contribution. That story alone was worth the price of admission, or in this case donation.
Afterwards, Antonio talked about moving to the West coast. In New York neighborhood everyone knew Antonio was Puerto Rican, but here he had to answer questions like “Do you think you are more black or Puerto Rican?” As if you can slice your soul into minute pieces. Antonio sees himself as having seven distinct blood lines that unite to form the poet he is.
His opus “Hilltopia” remains a powerful warning of the effect of gentrification on the Hilltop residents. But most of his stories of the schools and his mother came after the presentation was over. Three of us chatted with Antonio until people began arriving for his second show.
As we left, we told people just starting up the stairs to the third floor of the Knights of Pythias Lodge #7 that it was worth the effort. The lodge, built in 1906 felt like it could have been a classroom setting for a Dead End Kids movie from the forties, or Gabe Kaplin’s “Welcome Back, Kotter” TV sitcom from the 70s. Next time I see Antonio I’ll ask, if with its brass plates and push button lights, and milk glass hanging globes it felt like home to him . . . or merely a 600 school.